New international students cannot enter the United States if they take college courses online, government says

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A week after repealing sweeping new restrictions on international students, federal immigration officials announced on Friday that new international students would not be allowed to enter the United States if they planned to take their courses entirely online this autumn.

In a note to university officials, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said new students who were not already enrolled by March 9 “likely won’t be able to get” a visa if they intend to take courses entirely online. The announcement primarily affects new students who hope to enroll in universities that will offer courses entirely online due to the pandemic.

International students who are in the United States or returning from abroad and already have visas will still be allowed to take courses entirely online, according to the update, even if they begin teaching in person but have their schools go online in the face of a worsening epidemic.

The policy deals a blow to colleges a week after hundreds of people gathered to push back on a Trump administration policy that threatened to expel thousands of international students. The rule was intended to ban all international students in the United States from taking fully online courses this fall, even if their universities were forced to switch to fully online education in the midst of an outbreak.

The new ordinance was issued on Friday to clarify earlier guidelines from March 9 that suspended existing limits on online education for international students. The March guidelines were intended to provide flexibility as schools across the country shut down campuses amid the pandemic, but universities said it was not clear whether they were extending to new students.

In its memo, the ICE clarified that the flexibility only applies to students “who were actively enrolled in an American school on March 9”. Officials at some schools – including Harvard University and the University of Southern California, which are offering online classes this fall – had feared so much and had already told freshmen they couldn’t come from. abroad.

– “We fear this and we are preparing for it.” We are always disappointed, ”said Brad Farnsworth, group vice president.

Harvard officials have said they are asking Congress to extend the March guidelines to new students, but do not anticipate any changes until the fall semester. New students can take online classes from abroad or defer enrollment, the school said.

In a message to students on Tuesday, Harvard Undergraduate Dean Rakesh Khurana said the school “abhors” any policy forcing officials to choose between “the health of our community and the education of our international students.” .

The rule threatening to expel thousands of international students if they took all of their courses online has been widely seen as part of Trump’s recent campaign to pressure schools and colleges across the country to reopen this autumn.

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Immigration officers canceled the policy July 14 after being challenged by eight federal state and university lawsuits. More than 200 schools had signed briefs supporting a costume contributed by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The policy was released as a growing number of colleges make the decision to run all-or-primary courses online this fall. As cases of the virus continue to rise, schools including the University of California, Berkeley and Rutgers University announced the move this week.

Several education groups this week published letters urging ICE to allow all international students, including new ones, to enter the country even if their schools were operating entirely online. They said many colleges have already prepared accommodation for international students, even at universities that only offer online courses.

The Alliance of Presidents for Higher Education and Immigration, a coalition of university leaders, has expressed disappointment with ICE’s decision on new students. This puts undue pressure on schools to at least offer in-person instruction, the group said.

But other elements of the guidance have taken a step in the right direction, the group said, including the clarification that students can stay in the United States even if their schools switch to fully online education over the course of the year. semester.

Colleges in the United States are already expecting a sharp drop in the number of students coming from overseas amid the pandemic and a slowdown in visa processing. It is likely to deal a financial blow to colleges that depend on the income of international students, who typically pay higher tuition fees.

The country attracted around 1.1 million international students in the 2018-19 school year. The American Council on Education estimates that approximately 250,000 people plan to enter the United States for the next academic year, as new or old students.


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